Fighting trafficking of Cambodia’s vulnerable bears
Cambodia is home to at least 18 vulnerable species, including the Asiatic black bear, Sun bear, Asian elephant, Indochinese tiger and the Pileated gibbon.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Keeping or poaching bears is illegal in Cambodia. Despite recent efforts to increase penalties, both the hunting and killing of Sun bear and Asiatic black bear continues.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
The majority of the wild bears live in national parks and protected forests, but land encroachment, illegal logging and wildlife poaching threaten all of these protected areas.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Free the Bears Fund cares for more than 100 bears. Twenty one forested enclosures have been built over seven hectares to house a mixture of Sun bears and Asiatic black bears of different ages.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
All of the enclosures are furnished with pools, rocks, hammocks, climbing frames, native vegetation and a variety of enrichment toys to ensure that the bears are happy and healthy.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Some of the bears have been saved from illegal smuggling into neighbouring countries for use in bear bile farms. Bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid, which is effective against some ailments, such as some liver diseases. Yet traditional practitioners also prescribe bear bile for common conditions such as a sore throat.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Other bears have been confiscated from hotels and restaurants, where they were caged for the amusement of guests and tourists, or saved from poachers who sell cubs as exotic pets and status symbols.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Hefty is a Sun bear that arrived at the sanctuary last February. She was discovered by the police in a garment factory whose owner had gone bankrupt and fled the country. When she arrived, she was severely obese.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
The bear named Blue could not walk when it arrived at the sanctuary. He had spinal problems, which were most likely caused by an injury. Today he can walk and climb thanks to the veterinary care he received at the centre.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Nev Broadis, Free the Bears Funds regional director, with Brandy, a blonde Asiatic black bear that arrived at the sanctuary in 1999. Brandy had been kept as a pet until she grew too big.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
Each year more than 300,000 visitors, from Cambodia and abroad, come to visit the sanctuary. Many of them are schoolchildren, who take part in educational tours and classes.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
In 2007 the World Expeditions Bear Discovery Centre was opened, featuring life-size models and interactive displays to explain the vital role that bears play in forest ecosystems as well as the ways in which visitors can help to protect the bears.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
The quarantine area, where the new arrivals are kept for up to three months in order to protect the other bears health.Free the Bears / Paola Di Bella
But both species are now classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as vulnerable, as they have suffered from trafficking and from habitat loss and degradation.
For example, the Sun bear population declined by 30 per cent over the past 30 years because of both deforestation and trade, according to an INTERPOL report.
They are often traded as souvenirs or pets, and many of them are kept in bear farms where their bile is extracted for sale as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Some 13,000 bears are currently housed in illegal and legal captive establishments, according to INTERPOL.
Free the Bears Fund, a charity based in Australia, has been working with the Cambodian Forestry Administration since 1997 to protect these animals.
Some of the bears they rescued over the years now live in a sanctuary at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, some 40 kilometres south of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia. Given that these animals would not be able to survive in their natural habitat because they have never learnt to live in the wild, they will spend the rest of their lives here where they are fed, protected and cared for.